10 lessons learned over 8 years in NYC

A Southern transplant’s perspective over the years

8 years ago, I made the decision to move to New York City. I had a shiny new job, a crush on a guy I knew I was no good, and my sister who I knew I could count on. For some people, getting to NYC is a dream they’ve had as long as they can remember. That wasn’t me. I never thought I’d end up here, but sometimes life has other things in store for you than the plans you’ve been constructing. In the time I’ve been here, I’ve held three different jobs and lived in five different apartments between two different boroughs.

This milestone has me feeling nostalgic and thinking about some of my favorite “lessons” from living in NYC all these years. If you’re a fellow New Yorker, some (or all) of these should ring true for you, too.

This city really does never sleep — and if there’s something you want here, chances are someone delivers it. I’ve lived in big cities, but this was such a change for me. Miami and DC don’t come close to the NYC hustle. It’s part overwhelming and part invigorating to a new resident. It’s something though you learn to selectively engage over time — leveraging to your benefit when you need it, and closing the door when you just need some downtime. Learning that balance between off and on is key for a New Yorker.

Unless you have tons of time to spare and/or are really lucky, you’ll be paying someone thousands of dollars to then pay your landlord thousands of dollars to never actually really own anything. Seriously, I’m not sure anywhere else can get away with charging a broker’s fee to not buy something. I’m not sure any place other than New York would get me to do that — more times than I’d prefer to talk about. The longer you stay here, the more that number grows into a really really disgusting amount — but hey, it’s just is part of the experience of living here. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t still feel like throwing money into the wind (am I right, or am I right?!).

While we’re talking housing, let’s talk about walk in closets. And backyards. There are so many things you just don’t get here, and you won’t until if/when you make that move out into the outlying areas — typically meaning other “foreign lands” known as New Jersey and Connecticut. The NYC equivalent would be touting features such as proximity to the lobby (second floor is a plus for security, fifth floor just plain too far up), washer/dryer access, dishwasher, installed A/C, direct access to control your heat level (crucial), and the like.

Closets — just one of many ways Sex and the City doesn’t quite always capture NYC reality.

The value of purse flats. Well, all flats. When I moved to NYC, I had so many cute super high heels. After getting stuck in countless subway grates and/or barely making it home because my feet hurt so badly, I’ve learned that many of those didn’t even need to occupy closet space. I have a small fraction of decorative shoes, but nothing makes you think of footwear in such a practical light as living in New York City. If any of you use Fitbits, I’m sure you can attest we blow though some mileage on foot maneuvering the city.

The only thing that’s constant in the city is change. Writing so much about food, it’s easy to have a record of just how much change there really is here. Businesses turn over often times faster than you can remember to pay them a visit. Key spots in the city come and go, even ones that you think will remain around forever. And neighborhoods. Neighborhoods change here so so quickly. Isolated strips turn to cute restaurants and then turn into over priced stretches of real estate in only a matter of years.

The subway will almost always let you down, especially when you really need it to come. It took a while, but I’ve learned that leaving super early and just ultimately ducking into a Starbucks to kill time or some random boutique around the corner from a meeting is much better than being late. I always check my iTrans app to see which trains are all messed up in the morning (lifesaver). And, of course, staying on top of service alerts are key when you’re taking trains that never announce service issues (I’m looking at you, G).

The friends you come in with aren’t the ones you necessarily leave with — and that’s ok. Before graduating college, I had a pretty set crew of people in my life, and changing up the composition really meant something. Maybe a major falling out or someone ultimately moving away. It wasn’t something that just happened. I haven’t found that to necessarily be the case here. People grow and evolve, in how they approach their career and in how active they are in different elements to our great city (social, cultural, educational, professional, sports, you name it). I think NYC naturally lends itself to setting up a number of personal networks for you, which grow over time, with some of those branches being let go in favor of strengthening existing ones. Or maybe developing new ones. If you’re like me, I look back at those relationships fondly, since you can’t help but see how they got you to where you are today in some fashion.

New York City < New York City with dog. When you get a dog, it’s like you join a local informal club of sorts. It’s true. When I walk down the street, people stop and talk to us. It’s like an entirely different place. It’s not okay to make eye contact with strangers or soften your gaze to engage really in any way — unless, of course, Fido is involved. When we go into stores (not restaurants, naturally), the workers automatically like you. A number even have a special container of treats. Dog runs are another extension of this — taking this community to an all-new fascinating level. There are neighbors of mine I know by face and name — the name not being theirs but, of course, instead their dogs. Love it.

You’re tougher than you know (and it’s OK to be freaked out about it all after the moment passes). I feel like New Yorkers get this image of being tough. It wasn’t until I’d lived here for several years that I realized that it’s more than justified. I feel like if you ask most people who have lived here this long, they would have similar stories. They, too, will have been chased by people, had the obligatory super creepy subway encounter (or five), been screamed at for no apparent reason by a stranger, or perhaps (my favorite) had strangers just sit on you in the subway. Ah New York — always taking that lack of personal space to a new level. In the last year, I’ve had some of the toughest moments — the ones where, coming in, I would have told you that would be it. That I’d be outta here. Even as terrifying as some of my experiences have been, I know they pale in comparison to those of so many others who live here. And I think that’s why even though there are so many people here, it’s like you’re part of one huge dysfunctional family of sorts. Because you get it.

You’ve just gotta keep on moving. No matter what happens during your time here in the city, you just can’t stop. If your job isn’t quite what you want and you’re bummed, when your best friend decides to move back home, when the guy on Tinder used a stock photo instead of his own mug… whatever it is… you’ve gotta keep moving. It’s why you gradually automatically head to the right on the escalator, because you’ve just gotta keep on keepin’ on… And why if someone’s giving out flyers and screaming things at you, oh no — you don’t stop to take one — because you know. You’ve just gotta keep moving.

Ah, New York. I love you. I just can’t quit you. We really have a good thing.


A slightly different version of this article was published on October 6th. If you enjoyed this piece, you can also follow my content on Twitter or via my lifestyle blog, Grits in the City.

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